DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon
MR. BACON: Good afternoon.
Well, it's your second briefing of the day, Charlie. I hope that we're keeping you properly supplied with information.
MR. BACON: We have a bluetop back there on an event that took place earlier today, which was the event honoring the employer support for Guard and Reserve. We announced some awards for companies that have taken a leading role in this important area, supporting the Guard and Reserve. And there's information on those companies.
Admiral Johnson, the chief of Naval Operations, will host the 15th annual -- the 15th International Sea Power Symposium, starting next week, November 7th through the 10th, at the Naval War College in Newport. There will be representatives from 72 countries in attendance. And you can get more information from CHINFO, the Navy news office.
Later this afternoon Secretary Cohen will present the Department of Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Award to nine career employees. This is the highest award given to civilians. And these are people who have done outstanding work for the department.
Tomorrow Undersecretary Slocombe will give a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on national missile defense. I don't know if any of you caught his testimony several weeks ago on this topic, but this will be a continuation of his explanation of our national missile defense policy.
And finally, tomorrow in Los Angeles, Secretary Cohen will be the keynote speaker at the dedication of the National Medal of Honor Memorial at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California. There will be a large number of Medal of Honor recipients there, along with their families. I think it's one of the largest gatherings of Medal of Honor recipients to take place. They do have reunions, and I don't know how these compare. But there will be a large number of Medal of Honor recipients there.
With that, I'll take your questions. Charlie?
QKen, there's a report in Brussels, I understand -- I think it's a France Presse report -- that the United States has decided to pull what few nuclear weapons it has remaining in Europe and NATO countries. How would you -- have you anything on that?
MR. BACON: I have no information suggesting that report's correct. NATO maintains a small nuclear deterrent, and I have no information suggesting that's about to change.
QKen, it's been four days since the crash of Egyptair 990. Can you tell us anything more about who the Egyptian military officers were who were on the plane and what they were doing in the United States? I know you told us sort of in broad, general terms what they were doing, but can you give us any idea of exactly what they were doing here in the U.S.?
MR. BACON: Yes. I think I've been chastised a little by what I've said because this information keeps evolving, and at one point I suggested that most of them were helicopter pilots here for training. That came from the revelation that some of them were at Fort Rucker. But it turns out they weren't there for training, they were just sleeping there. But let me give you the latest best information I have, and this was developed by the American Embassy in Cairo and sent to us recently.
First of all, there were five groups, five separate groups of Egyptian officers here on official business, sponsored by their Ministry of Defense. In addition, there was a group of officers here not traveling on official business. They happened to be military officers; they could have been here as tourists, they could have been here visiting family, they could have been here for a variety of reasons, and we have no visibility on why they were here. So let me run through the groups.
The first group had six people in it. They were here to deal with a commercial contractor who was providing network planning and communications analysis services to the Egyptian military under a private contract. These six officers were dealing with that contractor in Boston.
Second, there were seven officers here to receive and test two H-3 helicopters. I believe these were the officers that were staying at Fort Rucker. But they were dealing with the contractor.
The third group, comprised of six people who were here dealing with a company in California that is providing training on high frequency telecommunications equipment to the Egyptian military. So they were here training on that equipment with the contractor under a commercial contract.
The fourth group, three people, were also training on telecommunications equipment in Florida. This was also under a commercial contract.
The fifth group, six people, were here for a conference dealing with repairs, and I think this deals with contractual arrangements for repairing Chaparral missiles.
In addition, there were five other officers here on whom we don't have a track. We believe that they were here on personal business. They had visas that were not sponsored by the Ministry of Defense.
So those are the groups. That adds up to 33 people. Just let me say, put it into context, that the number of Egyptian officers who visit the U.S. under MOD business varies from year to year, but on the average it's approximately a thousand a year.
QSo it appears that none of them was receiving IMET or any U.S. government training.
MR. BACON: No. No. Most of them seemed to be dealing with private contractors.
QWhat are the rules of the road when a foreign military person visits the United States on official business with all -- sponsored by embassy, MOD, whatever, on whether or not they are subject to going through airline security at U.S. airports, or is there some sort of diplomatic or military courtesy that they travel on extended to them by the Pentagon or the U.S. government that means they don't have to go through that security?
MR. BACON: I don't know the answer to that question. That's an FAA question. I mean, they are the people who deal with airport security, it's not the Pentagon. So you'd have to ask them.
QWhat can you tell us about the radar systems that the Air Force uses along with the FAA that have come with the new data? What are those radar systems used for, do we still have early warning in the United States along the coast?
MR. BACON: There's a group called the 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron based at Hill Air Force Base in Utah that sort of gathers and collates radar information that's collected, and they are the ones that have been assisting the National Transportation Safety Board in assembling a radar picture of what happened to EgyptAir flight 990. They provided the National Transportation Safety Board with a consolidated radar picture covering the entire flight path of the plane and, basically, they pull together radar from a variety of sources -- radar images -- and they can put them on -- I suppose that what they do is try to combine them onto one tape or one moving image.
They were the ones who provided the last indication of the plane's location to Air Force rescue people after the accident, or disaster, whatever it was, took place. Certainly a disaster. They provided the last known position to the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, which is at Langley Air Force Base. And after that, they basically spent three days, 72 hours, sifting through information and providing data files from all sorts of radars to the National Transportation Safety Board.
QWell, what do they do when they are not putting together composite pictures of airplane crashes? I mean, what do they really do for a living, this bunch?
MR. BACON: Well, I mean -- look, we have a variety of radar around the country that is used to defend our territorial integrity, to monitor air traffic. Obviously, there's a huge amount of air traffic coming in and we monitor it all the time. I suppose they do exercises and they do a variety of other things, trying to improve their capabilities, but the advantage of having these people there is that when there is a disaster like this they can put together a detailed picture relatively quickly, but not, you know -- by news business standards, maybe not quickly enough. It takes them several days to pull all this stuff together.
QBut they are, I gather, an expert group of people that do composite radar pictures, but -- I mean, clearly their main function is not to --
MR. BACON: This is their function. They are -- I'll give it to you in typically military terms. Their function is to evaluate, optimize and integrate long-range radars. And it is the primary agency that operates in support of Air Force mishap investigations. So if there is a mishap involving Air Force planes, they would pull together all the radar information and try to present a unified picture of what happened. And this would be information from the planes themselves, from other radars that might be monitoring the planes at a range or elsewhere.
QDid they have anything to do with the Learjet crash? Did they do any work on that?
MR. BACON: That's a very good question. I suspect they're the operation that followed the Learjet and pulled together all the radar information.
QThey pull together information from military radars only, right? They're not --
MR. BACON: I think they can pull together all sorts of radar information. What they have is a great synthesizing capability.
Yes? Let me get Elizabeth; she's been very -- then.
QThere was a report today that the United States and China are close to reviving military ties. Is a Chinese delegation coming here next month? Do you have the initial go-ahead on that?
MR. BACON: The Chinese have said that they want to resume military-to-military relations. We have yet to work out the details, including the details of when a defense consultative committee or team will get together to actually figure out what the next steps are. But there has been one very encouraging event so far, which is the U.S.S. O'Brien just completed a port visit in Hong Kong, the first visit by a U.S. ship since the Operation Allied Force involving Kosovo. So that's a positive sign. I think she left Hong Kong this morning Hong Kong time.
The next step is to get together the U.S. and Chinese officials to work out how we plan to restart this relationship. Right now Kurt Campbell, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian affairs, is scheduled to go to China with an official, a military official from the Pacific Command, later this month. And we hope that we will be able to have a meeting of the -- revive the so-called "defense consultative talks," probably in January. But no date has been set yet, and that remains to be worked out. So we won't have any firm information on when the relationship will be revived and how it will be revived until we have these Defense Consultative Talks.
QYou're not expecting a Chinese visitor next month?
MR. BACON: There is no firm date set on a Chinese visitor next month, no. And I would think that the visitor may come in January, but we don't have a firm date set. Obviously, from our standpoint, we would welcome a visit next month, but we don't know of firm plans for a visitor to come.
QAnd when exactly did the Chinese say that they did want to resume military-to-military contacts?
MR. BACON: Well, it was, I think, during Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering's last visit to China. He's been there several times recently working on a variety of issues, and I think his last visit may have been last week, and I think that's when it came, the information -- the suggestion from the Chinese came that they were willing. But remember, we already had the one important sign, which was their willingness to accept a port visit by the USS O'Brien in Hong Kong.
QCould you explain the difference between military-to-military contacts and what the deputy assistant secretary will be doing? How is that different from the military-to-military contacts?
MR. BACON: Well, what we had talked about was reciprocal port visits. We had talked about possible participation in certain table-top exercises dealing with disaster relief and things like that. In the past we had negotiated some maritime rules of the road which dealt with the way our navies would deal with each other if there were problems, incidents at sea. There are various military exchanges we've had in the past. I'll give you a perfect example. General Krulak, when he was commandant of the Marine Corps, was scheduled to go to China on an official visit; that visit never took place. It's conceivable that General Jones, the 32nd commandant, will go at some future time, but that's yet to be worked out. Those are exactly the type of details that would be resolved during Defense Consultative Talks, and as I say, those are the talks that haven't been scheduled yet but are really a necessary precondition to knowing where we go next.
QAnd -- I'm sorry -- Campbell and the PACOM officials then are the precondition to beginning the Defense --
MR. BACON: I think it's the PACOM J-5, yeah. I think --
QPrecondition to beginning the Defense Consultative Talks?
MR. BACON: Yeah -- I mean, we could schedule the Defense Consultative Talks before that. But I think it's most likely to happen during the Campbell PACOM J-5 as it now -- you know, this is currently scheduled. I assume it's going to take place. But a scheduled visit isn't necessarily when that will take place.
QKen, two quick questions, one on Indian Army chief Mr. Malik (sp) will be here in Washington next week; if he had any business to do here at the Pentagon, number one?
Number two, if anybody from this building had been in touch with the military dictatorship in Pakistan, as far as military relations will be concerned?
MR. BACON: The answer to both questions is I don't know. That's the simplest answer. I'll attempt to find out.
But I am not aware that we have had any direct military-to-military contact with the new military government in Pakistan, but I had better check before saying anything further.
QWell, did --
QAny -- just to follow up --
MR. BACON (?): Sorry.
Q-- any military-to-military contact with the Indian Army or Indian Defense Ministry?
MR. BACON: I am not aware of any military-to-military contact with the Indian Defense Ministry. There has been some at a higher level, where -- American officials, mainly from the State Department; I think entirely from the State Department -- have met with the defense minister over the last six to eight months. But I am not aware of any specific military-to-military contact.
We made it clear to both countries that we disagreed strongly with their tests. And we have had some dealings with them but mainly through the State Department.
QJust to go back to the 33 Egyptian military officers. I realize that this is somewhat well-worn territory at this point. But now that we know a little more about them and what they were doing here, is there anything in the profile of who they are that would suggest that they would somehow be more likely targets for terrorists?
MR. BACON: Not that I can see.
But I caution you again, to heed the warning given by the head of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is it's too early to rule anything in or anything out. We just don't know enough about what caused this plane to come down. And I think it's wise, particularly after all of the groundless speculation in the TWA 800 incident, it's wise for everybody to be cautious and to follow the evidence.
QKen, just a brief follow-up on what the secretary commented about -- (inaudible) -- when asked about the Russians saying that they had tested their ABM system; and he said again, the United States -- that the planned National Missile Defense was no direct threat against the Russians -- are not even aimed at that. But he said that he didn't know whether the Russians had tested this missile. Does the Pentagon know whether or not there was a test?
MR. BACON: We are currently looking at a variety of evidence. We have the public statements by the Russians, and we're seeing if we can back up those public statements.
QIf I could follow, Ken, as -- does the Pentagon have knowledge of the Russians modifying their -- what they call their A-135 ABM system, taking those rockets and taking the nuclear warheads from them, and are they converting to inertia-type kill vehicles, or -- or what's -- what can you tell us?
MR. BACON: Well, I can't tell you much about that except it would be a good thing if they were removing nuclear warheads and substituting other warheads on their -- it would be a step toward more stability and certainly more safety for the people of Russia.
QYou can't confirm that that's actually happened, that --
MR. BACON: No.
Q-- warheads have been taken off.
QSecretary Cohen said this morning that if they tested an interceptor, it would show that they have the system and the United States doesn't. Do we know, not necessarily from this test, which you said you're still looking at, but do we know as a general rule, does Russia have a working system that's capable of shooting a missile out of the sky, which the United States at the moment does not have?
MR. BACON: My understanding of what the Russians have is a 1970-vintage system designed to protect their national capital, Moscow. And it depends on using nuclear blasts in space to deflect, destroy, stop incoming missiles. That would be a, as I said, a very radiation-intense, dirty way of protecting the capital. That's my understanding of the system. It is not surprising that they would be looking at ways to modernize their system, given all of the technological developments that have occurred since the '70s. But I'll just stop and say it would not be surprising if they were thinking of doing that.
QWill you take this question about whether or not you could confirm that they, indeed, conducted a test on Tuesday and whether it was --
MR. BACON: I won't take the question, I'll answer it. We cannot confirm it at this stage.
QYou cannot confirm it. But at some point in the -- days, or -- you know, I -- you said you were going to be evaluating it. I assume that at some point you'll reach an opinion, and you might share that with us?
MR. BACON: If I can.
QAnd the only other part of it I would ask you is if that point comes where you can share with us, if you would tell us whether or not this was actually an interceptor test, like the ones the United States is conducting, or whether it was simply a test of the missile itself to see if was -- its capability.
MR. BACON: Yeah, I mean, the fact that the Russians have an ABM system is not new. They've had an ABM system. We used to have an ABM system, but we dismantled ours shortly after it was deployed, and they kept theirs.
The options under the treaty were to build a system that protected a national capital or protected a launch site. We chose to protect a launch site, to preserve a retaliatory capability under any circumstances. They chose to protect their national capital. We dismantled our system. They kept theirs up, and it is still there.
MR. BACON: You're welcome.